Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Most LGBTQ Jews in the U.S. live far from a synagogue or communal institution focusing on gay or transgender individuals. Likewise, most mainstream Jews have little opportunity to consider the rich interplay of Jewish scholarship and LGBTQ life developed in recent decades. Since the founding of the CRRI by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in 1994 (funded by a congregant, and the synagogue) 37 rabbis have spent 1-2 years acquiring skills to serve LGBTQ Jews of all ages. Upon ordination they work in synagogues, community centers, healthcare and educational settings, where they transmit first-hand the impact of LGBT people on contemporary American Jewish life.
As student rabbis representing all the progressive movements, interns (usually within a year of ordination) put into practice every aspect of Jewish scholarship. The unusually wide range of duties associated with this training assures that Jewish learning underlies the tasks and responsibilities of Cooperberg-Rittmaster interns. Examples include the annual Torah cycle including d’rashot, text study classes, Shabbat and holiday observance, children’s and adult education, and the full range of life-cycle events including pastoral care for the sick and for mourners. Every aspect is infused with dedication to the struggles for LGBTQ empowerment, not as an “overlay” but based in study of text and liturgy, and commitment to social justice over the 43 year history of CBST (Cohen, Rabbi Ayelet, “Changing Lives, Making History CBST”, 2014). Same-sex commitment ceremonies, improvised over decades and based in the laws of Jewish marriage, are now legal civil and religious ceremonies, and constitute a staple of family congregational life at CBST, and nationwide where CRRI alumni officiate.
Employing a “teach the teacher” model, the CRRI program assures a wide network of long- term beneficiaries; thousands of congregants, patients, students and community members to whom internship alumni minister throughout their careers. During their tenure at CBST, interns impact the the congregational membership of about 700 children and adults, as well as the larger kehila that joins us for High Holy Days, Pride services and other special events in the annual calendar. Free Yom Kippur services for adults and children (The Open Door) at the Jacob Javits Center is, after 24 years, an annual milestone for the three to four thousand individuals who worship in that glass sanctuary. CRRI trainees, who are just beginning their tenure, are key participants, leading services, teaching afternoon classes, and delivering the first formal d’rashot of their careers. An annual alumni retreat, during which one former intern delivers the Shabbat d’rash, reinforces the values of the program and insures an interactive community with lasting connections to CBST.
Thirty-seven American rabbis represent the legacy of the CRRI to date. The roster of their positions upon ordination, and statements reflecting their experience (both appended to this application) demonstrate most clearly the impact of this program on its participants, as well as those served during their professional rabbinates. Members of CBST connect quickly to the students, enthusiastically attending classes, services, and innovative programs that represent the unique interests and skills of the interns. Examples include a running group, Shabbat chanting services, and environmental justice programming. Gratitude for a hospital visit, Shiva minyan, or just a quiet talk is routinely expressed in the congregation. As with any student, the rabbis and members of CBST take pride in the CRRI trainees and their ongoing contribution to the Jewish community of the U.S.
The power of the itinerant preacher, one who studies in a center of learning and then goes forward to transmit the wisdom acquired, is evoked by the CRRI program. The Maggid in Jewish history (sometimes a rabbi) is a “teller” or communicator of learning and interpretation, as he travels from town to town. By analogy, CRRI interns fan out to reach the people where they live: the child of a same sex couple in a distant synagogue cleaves to Judaism due to the guidance and teaching of a rabbi having trained at CBST; an LGBTQ elder in a rural nursing home receives the understanding s/he may have been denied up to that time; an adolescent boy whose emergent gay activity may be secret from his family, even as the rabbi recognizes that safe- sex guidance is in order. The melding of traditional Jewish practice with contemporary values of progressive LGBTQ life is at the core of the CRRI program. We pray it provides the Shelter of Peace promised in our tradition.
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